Wandering China

An East/West pulse of China's fourth rise from down under.

China Needs Butlers [Wall Street Journal]


The Chinese have been a source of cheap labour and domestic help worldwide since the eighteenth century. As the twenty-first moves into its second decade, it is intriguing to see how the tables have turned with British butlers a ‘must’ to ‘accessorise’ newly purchased mansions for the newly wealthy in China, India and the Middle East. Keeping with the times or is this a subtle cultural dig back at former colonial masters?

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China Needs Butlers
By Robert Frank
Source – Wall Street Journal, December 14, 2011

The butler economy may be slow to rebound in the U.S., but it’s booming in China.

According to Bloomberg, Britain’s Guild of Professional English Butlers has trained 20% more butlers in 2011 than 2010, and demand is outstripping supply. The Bespoke Bureau in London, which also trains butlers, said butler training is up 52%. Bespoke recently placed a butler with a salary of $158,390 for a rich family in the United Arab Emirates, the article said.

“There is a shortage of them,” Bespoke’s owner told Bloomberg.

One big reason: China.

The newly wealthy in China, India and the Middle East want a classic British butler to accessorize their newly purchased mansions, villas and London townhouses.

“They are discovering that if you spend $8 million on a villa with marble flooring, you need someone to come along who knows what they are doing,” Robert Watson of Britain’s Guild told Bloomberg.

As for the U.S., the butler bust of 2008 and 2009 is subsiding but salaries and demand have yet to return to 2007 levels. In my book, I profile a few of the laid-off butlers who are trying to make a comeback in a tepid staffing economy.

One butler, Lloyd White, decided that the whole butler gig needed a rethink.  After losing his job working for a former billionaire, he started his own company called “The Occasional Butler.”

As an occasional butler, he charges about $50 an hour to create and staff parties and events for the semi-wealthy and affluent. He said he often gets his party supplies at Costco and can throw a good bash for about $300 –  a far cry from his days serving sushi on the Gulfstream.

“These aren’t the ultra-rich, like I used to work for,” he said. “But they still like to have a nice party once in a while.”

It’s the perfect business model  for our times. The occasional butler for the occasionally rich.

Do you think butlers will make a comeback in the U.S.?

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Filed under: Beijing Consensus, Bloomberg, Chinese Model, Culture, Domestic Growth, Economics, Influence, Social, The Chinese Identity, The construction of Chinese and Non-Chinese identities, Trade, U.K., U.S., Wall Street Journal

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